Putting the Ghost Back in the Machine: A Defense of Common Sense Dualism

Analytical Contents

Section I: In Defense of Common Sense Philosophy

Chapter 1: Philosophical Error and the Economics of Belief Formation

1.1: I begin by discussing some recent work in medical meta-research and in cognitive psychology about the effectiveness of academic research. John Ioannidis has argued to the satisfaction of most of his colleagues that the majority of positive findings published in peer reviewed academic medical journals are false. He claims that a large number of influences, including financial influences facing researchers and journals, and cognitive biases influencing research demonstrate that the majority of positive findings in medical research are actually false. In addition, work in cognitive psychology has shown that academics tend to be both less accurate than they believe and far more confident about their beliefs than the evidence warrants. The incentives faced by researchers, and the subconscious cognitive influences held by researchers both suggest that success rates of published work in potentially every intellectual discipline are likely to be far lower than generally believed.

1.2 I continue by discussing some recent work in behavioral economics by Bryan Caplan. Caplan discusses the issue of political error, and contends that the primary cause of poor policies in democratic societies derives from voter irrationality. Caplan’s account of this phenomena rests in a general account of irrational belief formation which he calls “rational irrationality.” I discuss this work, and its apparent consequence that incentive structures we have over our beliefs likely play an important role in explaining the presence of widespread error in any number of areas, including academic areas with low costs of error.

1.3: I examine the consequences of the previous sections for academic philosophy, and find that the results are not good. Academic philosophers face incentives that are worse than the average voter, and that incentivize certain types of error in the field. In addition, the discipline has fewer checks against error than other disciplines, and therefore is more likely to accept methods of belief formation that are subject to the problems that face other academic disciplines.

1.4: I provide an account of the mechanism by which non-epistemic incentives can infect academic research in philosophy. Specifically, I claim that the most likely cause of error in the field is the presence of under-scrutinized presuppositions of method endorsed by various philosophical fields. I explain how, given the presence of the incentives discussed in the previous section, presuppositions of method that permit the acceptance of beliefs that fulfill these incentives will lead to profligate but inaccurate literatures, and will appear to be sound to those who engage in them at the time. This account gives rise to a need among philosophers to critically evaluate the methodological assumptions we use in philosophical practice.

1.5: I begin that investigation by looking at the nature of arguments, and explaining why it is likely that philosophers dramatically over-estimate the evidential relevance of philosophical arguments as sources of evidence. This over-estimation of the relevance of arguments is a wide-spread philosophical error built into nearly every philosophical method. In addition, it is the type of error that fits the incentive structure described above. I conclude by suggesting that this example gives us more reason to carefully reflect on even the most widely held presuppositions of philosophy. I also suggest that the right place to begin that investigation is with a good account of the nature of evidence.

Chapter 2: Evidence and Epistemic Justification

2.1: I begin to defend the account of evidence I endorse by examining Michael Huemer’s Principle of Phenomenal Conservatism (PC). Huemer’s principle states “If it seems to S that p, then S thereby has at least some reason to believe that p.” Huemer takes this principle to be self-evident. I explain the principle, and evaluate this claim.

2.2: I discuss Huemer’s self-defeat argument for (PC). Huemer believes that (PC) is a presupposition of rational thought, and that it is therefore impossible to argue against (PC) without assuming its truth. I consider two different versions of this argument, and explain why Huemer needs to accept a version that takes (PC) to be a necessary truth about the nature of justification.

2.3: I begin to explain why we should think that seemings are necessarily tied to epistemic justification. I provide an account of seemings that grows out of Huemer’s work. Specifically, I claim that seemings are propositional attitudes that serve the function of allowing us to add to our existing beliefs in a way that is guided by our epistemic aims. I explain why this shows that the possibility of epistemic rationality depends on the exitence of seemings, and why this suggests that we should think that, in the absence of defeaters, seemings must confer at least some degree of justification.

2.4: I consider a series of objections to Huemer’s position. First, I consider objections that suggest that only a limited subset of seemings confer justification, even in the absence of defeat. I argue that the proposed limitations to (PC) all stem from some misunderstanding of the principle, and that, in the absence of examples that fail to depend on such a misunderstanding, we should think that (PC) captures a necessary truth. Next, I consider objections that attack the broader epistemic framework developed in the paper. Specifically, I consider objections from John DePoe about the need for seemings as sources of evidence, an argument from Michael Bergmann objecting to the necessity of (PC), and an argument from William Alston against the connection between (PC) and deontological, voluntaristic accounts of justification.

Chapter 3: In Defense of Common Sense Philosophy

3.1: I begin with an explanation of the nature of common sense. Taking my cue from Thomas Reid, I argue that common sense beliefs are presuppositions of ordinary thought and discourse.

3.2: I proceed to explain in more detail what common sense is, and how to identify common sense beliefs. Reid suggests that one can identify common sense by (1) examining the structure of languages for commonalities, (2) identifying unstated assumptions of every day life that are necessary to make sense of ordinary human action and interaction, and (3) identifying widely shared beliefs that seem to stem from surface-level, ordinary exercises of our intellectual powers, such as observation or intuition.

3.3: Having explained what common sense is, I proceed to discuss the elements of common sense philosophy. Common sense philosophy typically adopts the following methodological presuppositions: (1) A rejection of contextualist accounts of both justification and proof which suggest that philosophical contexts should accept higher or distinct standards from those used in ordinary life, (2) A broad-based foundationalism that takes all of our natural intellectual abilities as legitimate sources of knowledge and as the basis for our initial data in philosophy, (3) A negative view of the use of speculation as a source of evidence, (4) An affinity for at least some aspects of ordinary language philosophy, and an acceptance of the idea that ordinary speech is ontologically committing, and (5) a privileging of the authority of ordinary human judgment over theoretical or philosophical reasoning in cases where the two conflict.

3.4: I examine a theoretical defense of common sense that can be found in the works of Reid, G. E. Moore, and Michael Huemer. According to this defense, there are limits on the extent of rational belief revision connected to the nature of evidence and to the structure of justification. According to this view, the dependency of theoretical positions on non-theoretical starting points, and the strong presumptive weight given to widespread, heavily integrated aspects of our common sense worldivew grant them a near-immunity from revision on the basis of theoretical considerations. In addition to discussing these arguments, I offer my own version of this defense, drawing on earlier sections of the work.

3.5 I discuss the question of why we should think that common sense beliefs are correct. I explain how Reid’s providentialist account of why we should trust our beliefs is unlikely to be accepted at present, and some of the consequences of this. I then provide my own account of why we should accept common sense. On my view, the reason to privilege common sense judgments isn’t because they must be correct, it is because whether or not they are correct, they are the best we can hope to achieve given both human nature and the nature of evidence.

3.6: I evaluate common sense philosophy with respect to its ability to solve the methodological problem discussed in chapter 1. I explain how the elements of common sense philosophy discussed in section 3.3 include valuable and important limitations on philosophical positions that can curtail the influence of perverse incentives to a high degree. I finish with a discussion of the comparative value of the common sense approach and of naturalism, explaining why naturalism should be viewed as subject to the same basic flaws as most philosophical methods, given the results of the first chapter.

Section II: The Common Sense View of the Mind

Chapter 4: Mind and the Physicalist’s World

4.1: I begin with a preliminary discussion of whether or not dualism is the common sense view of the mind. I discuss some previous claims made about this issue and conclude that while it appears to be the common sense view, we need a more in depth examination of the nature of the mind in order to be certain.

4.2: I discuss the various features the mind is typically thought to have. These include the fact that minds include thoughts and beliefs, that conscious experiences occur there, that these experiences include sensations and other qualitative states, that the mind is the locus of our choices about how to act, and that they are the essential parts of us.

4.3: I discuss the nature of physicalism, arguing that physicalism is committed to the view that mental states are realized by brain states. I provide an account of realization in order to explain the minimal commitments of physicalists in their efforts to account for the mind.

4.4: I divide the physicalist’s projects into efforts to explain the apparent components of our mental states, such as qualia and content, and the apparent functional or causal role of our mental states. I provide a brief explanation of why our intuitions of distinctness in philosophy of mind provide a serious challenge for physicalists to overcome.

Chapter 5: Compositional Components of the Mind

5.1: I begin chapter 5 with a discussion of the role of intuition and introspection as sources of evidence in philosophy of mind. I explain why an advocate of the common sense method should trust introspection as a source of foundational judgment. I also explain why the best way to think of intuitions in philosophy of mind is in terms of thought experiments. I claim that thought experiments serve the role of getting us to attend more directly and carefully to specific aspects of our minds, while simultaneously helping us develop inter-subjective data to build our theories on.

5.2: I reiterate the basic case for dualism from the appeal of thought experiments in favor of dualism that we find in the literature. I claim that people naturally accept the conclusion of these thought experiments that thoughts and feelings aren’t physical.

5.3: I examine specific thought experiments and intuitions discussed in the literature, including Leibniz’ mill, Jackson’s cases of Mary and Fred, Searle’s Chinese room argument, and various issues discussed by Alvin Plantinga. I claim that the entirety of the appeal of these examples lies in getting us to focus on specific features of our mental states. They are, in a sense, ostensive efforts to get us to see which features the dualist thinks must be non-physical. Their appeal rests in our automatic understanding of these components of our minds as non-physical states.

5.4: I discuss the question of how to view the conclusions of these thought experiments. I claim that the thought experiments justify the claim that mental states are non-physical, not just the claim that mental states don’t appear to be physical. I also discuss related objections to these conclusions that claim that the mind is mysterious in itself, and that dualism fails to alleviate this mystery. I reply to this objection by explaining why mental substances are uniquely suited to explain the existence of these features.

5.5: I provide an epistemological objection to functionalism. Specifically, I argue that functionalism cannot provide an account of how we learn the functional roles of mental states. Functionalists claim that our mental states are exhausted by their functional nature. However, our knowledge of mental functions, especially purely internal ones, must derive from an introspective awareness of specific mental states fulfilling those functions. This awareness requires that those states have identifiable intrinsic components that we can track and recognize in order to learn those functions. Given this, functionalism appears unable to account for our knowledge of those aspects of our mental lives which they claim exhaust our mental lives.

5.6: I conclude the chapter by discussing some of the history of physicalism. Specifically, I claim that the explanatory gap used to be seen to establish dualism as the default view, and physicalists recognized a burden of proving that this gap could be overcome. However, despite failing to actually overcome it, physicalism somehow managed to become the default position in the field. I claim that this change was unjustified, and that the best explanation for the inability of physicalists to overcome the explanatory gap remains the initial dualist hypothesis that it is conceptually impossible that the intrinsic components of our mental lives could be physical.

Chapter 6: The Causal Argument against Physicalism

6.1: I begin chapter 6 with a discussion of the commitments of physicalism with respect to causation. I explain why physicalists are limited to event causal accounts of efficient causation given their view about the nature of reality. I further explain how the options available for event-causal explanations appear to be incompatible with the nature of free will and moral responsibility.

6.2: I provide a detailed account of the nature of agent causation in order to further elucidate the conflict between physicalism and agency. I describe agent causation as singular, non-derivative, and intentional exercise of the active power inherent in agents. This positive account provides content to the nature of agent causation and helps us see how this type of causation is regularly appealed to in human history.

6.3: I discuss some experimental data related to issues of free will and agency. First, I explain why Paul Bloom contends that people are natural dualists and I discuss how notions of agency and intentionality are central to this account. Next, I look at some results from experimental philosophy relevant to this issue. X-phi results have not been uniform when it comes to questions about our intuitions on free will and moral responsibility. I explain why the results supporting libertarianism are more reliable than the ones suggesting a more compatibilist account of moral responsibility, and why many of the results of x-phi experiments are likely to be questionable in this area.

6.4: I tie together the results of this chapter and the previous one to explain why they combine to produce a serious and perhaps insurmountable problem for physicalists. Realism in philosophy of mind requires sufficient fidelity to common sense concepts about the mind for the project to count as a reductive or realization account of the mind rather than an error theory about the mind. Given the conceptual inadequacies of the compositional and the functional or causal aspects of the physicalist’s view of the mind, they don’t appear to have sufficient fidelity to any aspect of the pre-theoretical understanding of the mind to grab a foothold to explain the rest of the features in terms of. Given this, it is likely that the only versions of physicalism with any hope of success will have to be anti-realist views such as error theories or eliminativism.

Chapter 7: Dualism as Common Sense

7.1: In chapter 7 I seek to develop an overall account of the mind that unifies the results of the previous chapters with some additional common intuitions about the nature of the mind we find in the literature. I begin with a brief description of the intuition that minds are, in principle, separable from bodies. I discuss how this intuition can be seen both in the history of philosophy and in the history of thought in general.

7.2: I continue by explaining how the intuitions about disembodiment connect to the role of the mind as a source of original causal power. I explain why substance dualism is best suited to explain the existence of a loci of a new type of efficient causation given its introduction of a fundamentally different player into the causal network.

7.3: I discuss yet another feature of the mind often thought to support dualism: subjectivity. I explain why a substance capable of subjective experiences is necessary for rational action, and how rational action is directly related to the existence of the compositional features of the mind discussed in chapter 5.

7.4: I explain how the results of the previous sections combine to form a comprehensive view of the mind and its place in human behavior. I explain how the possibility of rational choice created by the combination of subjectivity and the compositional features of the mind combine with the combination of an immaterial mind as a source of new causal power to provide a compelling picture of human beings as rational agents. I explain why a substance dualist view of the mind should be preferred to other forms of dualism that lose plausibility from their lack of comprehensiveness.

7.5: I tie the results of this chapter back to the issues discussed in chapter 1 by discussing whether or not we should be suspicious of dualism as an interesting philosophical view. I claim that dualism isn’t really interesting. It is instead the combination of a few basic intuitions and introspective observations. It appears interesting only because philosophers have rejected it. I further explain why I think this should never have happened, and how strong the case against physicalism appears to me to be.

7.6: I sum up the section, and explain how it connects to section I and sets the stage for section III.

Section III: Objections and Replies

Chapter 8: Causal Objections to Dualism

8.1: I begin by providing an overview of the objections to be considered in section III. I point out that if someone has been fully convinced by the work of the first two sections, then they will see the task of the physicalist in overcoming the presumption in favor of dualism as nearly insurmountable. However, given that I can’t reasonably expect everyone to have fully embraced those conclusions, I set myself the higher task of showing that these objections fail to overcome even a far milder presumption in favor of dualism.

8.2: The first objection I consider rests on the intuition many people share that there is something odd or impossible about immaterial causation. I discuss a few examples of this intuition, and argue that they fail to provide a good objection to dualism. First, I point out that these intuitions are far from universal, and run counter to examples of causal stories people have often had no problem understanding or accepting. I also point out that the puzzlement seems to depend on insisting that the explanation fit the model of event causation used in other areas, and therefore begs the question. Finally, I point out that even if one struggled to provide an explanation of immaterial causation, this wouldn’t mean we should ignore the apparent evidence of its existence, as uncertainty about how something happens is a weak basis for claiming it doesn’t.

8.3: Jaegwon Kim has produced a far more developed version of the objection claiming that immaterial causation is problematic, which he calls the “pairing problem.” This problem revolves around the issue of how we can pair up mental causes with physical effects in the absence of spatial relations. Kim’s pairing problem can interpreted as either an epistemological or as a metaphysical worry. I explain why the epistemological worry fails to qualify as a genuine philosophical mystery, and then move on to discuss the metaphysical worry. Kim asks for a description of the relationship between the mind and the body that explains how they can interact without spatial relations. I describe the relationship between the mind and body as the combination of experiential awareness and of agency, or direct control of the body. I explain why this account can fulfill Kim’s request in a way that isn’t question-begging or empty.

8.4: I continue by moving on to objections grounded in empirical discoveries. I start with the discovery of neural correlates of mental activity we have found in the brain. I claim that these discoveries are fully compatible with dualism, and that the presence of regular, continuous correlations of this sort are exactly what we should expect once we think more deeply about the intimate and continuous nature of mind/body interaction. I also explain why the expertise of neuroscientists in their ability to reach these discoveries fails to give them any authority in questions about the metaphysics of the mind.

8.5: I consider several objections to agent causation. In 8.5.1, I consider van Inwagen’s rollback argument, which claims that agents would be redundant as causes due to the presence of a statistical explanation of our behavior in terms of the probabilities of each of our actions occurring. I explain why the presence of statistical outcomes from a rollback scenario fail to provide an adequate account of our behaviors, and how this shows that van Inwagen’s argument fails to provide a problem for the view. In section 8.5.2, I discuss the role of motives in human behavior and consider the objection that indeterminism negates the possibility of comprehensible action. I explain why this objection not only fails to show a problem for libertarian views, but also why libertarianism does a much better job capturing the data we have about free choice than does a view according to which motives are sufficient causes of our behavior. In section 8.5.3, I discuss the studies done by Liber and others on the timing of choices and influences of the will. Several studies claim to show that people are systematically mistaken about when they make choices, typically believing they have made a choice only after the relevant brain activity leading up to the action has begun. I explain why these studies can be better understood as reflecting the time of resolution, and why we should think that physical activities would begin prior to resolving on a specific decision, and thus should result in data like we actually find.

8.6: I discuss the relevance of nature and nurture on human behavior and its relevance to the existence of free will. I claim that worries that our knowledge of the influences of these factors on our actions are has left no room for free will are dramatically overstated. Although there is a significant influence of genetics on human behavior and a varying but far less significant influence of upbringing and identifiable aspects of shared environment on human behavior, the data is nowhere close to establishing a deterministic view of human action. There is plenty of room left for free will to exert influence over our actions.

8.7: I discuss the claim that the conservation of energy is inconsistent with dualism, and explain why it is false. The law is compatible with interactive dualism for two reasons. First, the law discusses the overall quantity of energy in a system over time, and is therefore compatible with changes in distribution that don’t produce changes in quantity. More importantly, however, the law is only intended to apply to closed systems. If interactive dualism is true, then physical bodies aren’t closed physical systems; they are systems that are being influenced from the outside by an immaterial mind. As a result, the law of conservation of energy simply doesn’t apply to human behavior if dualism is true.

8.8: I discuss the idea that the universe is causally closed, and the related objection to dualism outlined by Papineau. I explain why such a principle might be used as a guiding principle of science, but why this role it plays fails to have relevance in philosophical contexts, and fails to provide grounds for questioning dualism.

8.9: I finish the chapter by discussing the inductive case for physicalism grounded in the past successes of science. I claim that the inductive case is far weaker than is traditionally believed. First, the past successes of science have primarily served to overcome speculative views of cultures, not substantive data of common sense. Second, the current data we have in relevant areas such as neuroscience fails to justify confidence in its eventual ability to account for everything we do. Most neuroscientists interpret and describe their findings under physicalist assumptions. Those who look at the data without this guiding assumption often interpret it differently, sometimes even claiming a need for immaterial causes. These facts suggest that physicalism isn’t a conclusion being derived from the data, but rather an interpretive constraint on how many researchers describe the data in the first place. Metaphysical assumptions of scientists, however, don’t provide good guidance in philosophy, while the newness of the field together with facts about scientific practice suggest that even if there are serious problems with this assumption, we should not have expected these problem to cause a shift in this presupposition of those researchers.

Chapter 9: Non-Causal Objections to Dualism

9.1: I begin this section with a discussion of parsimony and its application to philosophy of mind. I examine some of the accounts of parsimony and argue that they either fail to offer support on either side of the issue or else offer support for dualism. In particular, I focus on a defense of parsimony grounded in anti-speculative philosophy, and argue that in philosophy of mind it is the physicalist and not the dualist who is engaged in speculative ontology, and therefore physicalism is less parsimonious than dualism.

9.2: I discuss the relevance of introspective illusions and of thought experiments in philosophy of mind. I claim that the illusions we find in introspection can be easily accommodated by a reasonably fallibilist epistemology and don’t justify skepticism about introspection in general. In addition to introspective illusions, Daniel Dennett has attacked the use of thought experiments in philosophy of mind. I provide a quick, general defense of the use of intuitions in philosophy and then explain why intuitions derived from thought experiments should be used as data points in philosophy of mind.

9.3: I consider Paul Churchland’s claim that dualists are asking for a special epistemic status for introspection that we don’t offer in other areas, namely that our experience fully reveals the underlying nature of what we are aware of. I explain why introspective data favoring dualism provides such strong evidence about the nature of our minds. First, I claim that in our experiences of all types we have a good sense of the categories into which the objects of awareness fall, even when we lack a full grasp of their underlying nature. Second, I claim that unlike in the case of perception, in introspection there doesn’t appear to be an additional underlying nature beyond the qualitative aspects of the experience themselves. Since they appear to be irreducible, the suggestion that they have an underlying nature runs counter to experience.

9.4: I discuss some apparent materialist intuitions about persons and explain how they can be incorporated into a dualist metaphysic. I sketch a general ontology of persons according to which we are comprised of both a physical body and an immaterial mind in virtue of the causal interconnectedness of the two substances. This account can make sense of the idea that I have a certain weight and height without sacrificing the view that I am essentially a mind or a soul.

9.5: I conclude with a brief summary of the work and with some optimistic claims about the viability of common sense dualism. I explain why I have sought to establish such strong conclusions, and how much weaker versions of those conclusions would still suffice to justify substance dualism. I conclude by offering some reason to think that the establishment of common sense philosophy as a viable approach to intellectual inquiry should result in a return to dualism as the default view in the field.

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